Do we have to let them back in ?
Sure we could drum up a no return policy for mother earth.
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson is set to take his first jaunt to the edge of space ahead of commercial spaceflight rival Jeff Bezos, with an 11 July trip aboard VSS Unity. Last night's announcement listed Branson among the four passengers aboard the flight, the 22nd flight test for the rocket-powered glider, although …
"Beardie hangs out on private island tax free with his money but was happy for UK gov to pay when 8,000 Virgin Atlantic staff were furloughed."
I heard a rumor that as a UK tax expat, he can only visit the UK for no more than 72 hours at a go. Not sure if that's true, but it's a good story. Living tax free isn't possible anywhere. His island isn't sovereign so he has to pay somebody and there are other expenses that will add up to more than just paying "tax" in some other location. I expect that it's less than what the US or UK government would extract.
Any billionaire could go to space easy. The feeling about all the underpaid workers, unpaid taxes burning behind you as you thrust yourself on a piece of metal, to show everyone how big of a billionaire you are.
I'd very much see those "heroes of capitalist revolution" to start a race into making lives of workers better and start paying taxes like small businesses do.
They will not slip the bonds of earth. Last time humans managed that was in the Apollo program. We'll continue being stuck in this (gravity) well.
That's not sayin I don't share your sentiment, but one astronaut commented that this takes a couple of days: on the first day they pointed out their home regions, on the second their countries. On the third their continents until on the fourth they marveled at the fragile beauty of Earth. I cannot remember the exact quote, or who said it, but it seems like one should make our heads of state spend some weeks up there. Maybe at the same time, so they are forced to cooperate.
Er... Gravity wells extend to infinity.
They do, but "slip the bonds of earth" clearly refers to achieving escape velocity in the context of space flight. Obvious like, innit?
(I've just looked up the author of that sonnet and realised that I used to regularly drive through the village where he's buried, though I can barely picture it now and can't remember ever stopping. Apparently the sonnet is engraved on his headstone.)
I don't think the term "early bird" is really applicable to either of these efforts, considering how long they've both been in development, sixteen or seventeen years, I believe. Better late than never, I guess.
That being said, personally I find the Virgin craft to be the much cooler vehicle, even if it doesn't go quite as high. New Shepard just seems a really uninspiring, play-it-safe design, boosting a capsule up and then landing it by parachute out in the sticks. Comparing that to a manually-flown rocket plane, air-launched from a fantastic-looking carrier aircraft, and landing the passengers back at the take-off site, I know which one I'd want to fly on. If I was the kind of absurdly rich git who's going to be making that choice.
I have to say that my thought was: "Those look like somewhat worryingly large windows for something that's going up into the vacuum of space"!
In disaster-movie-land, you just know that a tiny piece of space junk will strike the window, and an initially small crack will slowly but inexorably spread its way across the glass… I hope the windows are made from extremely toughened glass!
"They aren't going anywhere near high enough to be bothered by orbital debris."
I don't know about that. There are a whole bunch of dead Starlink satellites and more all of the time. Who knows when they'll deorbit on their own and the plan is to have better than 12,000 of them flying.
"Who knows when they'll deorbit on their own and the plan is to have better than 12,000 of them flying."
Who knows? The people who put them up there and the people who monitor that sort of stuff. They may not know exactly when they will come back down, but there are known factors. They are low enough that they need station keeping fuel to stop them falling.
"That being said, personally I find the Virgin craft to be the much cooler vehicle, even if it doesn't go quite as high."
Looks can kill and probably will. White Knight 2 is worn out. They've had major structural issues and SS2 has as well. The thinking early on was that SS1 could be scaled up to carry enough passengers to make it something that could generate enough revenue. It turns out that the hybrid rocket motor isn't infinitely scalable. In addition to that, instead of developing the motor first and building the craft around it, they just assumed that they'd iron out the issues they were having and end up with something that would fit in the space allocated. Wellllllllll. It turns out there are better fuels than HTPB rubber but they require more plumbing and it takes away a couple of passenger seats to fit the extra. In addition, that extra stuff adds weight. One problem with using HTPB is towards the end of the burn, it runs very rough. Too rough for delicate meat sacks so they have to leave some gas in the can by shutting down sooner than first planned.
Rockets have been around for decades now and Blue Origins boring design is due to converging design choices that have been show over and over to work. There are some really clever features of New Shepard. The ring fin braking design with the speed flaps on the booster that are covered for the UP trip by the capsule is a clever way to minimize mechanics while still having a very effective method to slow the booster and keep it oriented bottom side down.
I've been impressed by Blue Origin's test flights. They have been very smooth and have gone like clockwork as the vehicle has matured. As a rocket engineer (lapsed), I know what to look for which is why I bash Elon's Starship as such a mess. I can't detect every issue from watching videos, but the ones I can are fundamental and should have been addressed very early instead of showing up again and again. I've got a few quid in the kitty right now and I'm tempted to rent a really long lens and camp out on South Padre Island for the booster test flight. I'll get one of those silver fire suits I can put over bomb squad armor and use my second best camera.
"White Knight 2 is worn out."
Sounds about right, for the test vehicle at the end of the test program.
"It turns out that the hybrid rocket motor isn't infinitely scalable."
That's interesting, I hadn't seen anything about that. Do you have links? (Not citation-needed, but gimme-the-reading-material :)
I'm more of a fan of the Virgin approach than the Muskian approach because, tbh, there's nothing new in what Space-X are doing. It's a way of making traditional rockets cheaper. Virgin are at least trying to build an air-breathing first stage, and if they get it right they'll forget about the passenger fundraiser flights and be able to launch stuff incredibly cheaply in comparison to SpaceX. It's obviously how we have to go one day, might as well get there sooner.
"That's interesting, I hadn't seen anything about that. Do you have links? (Not citation-needed, but gimme-the-reading-material :)"
I don't have a source(s) I can name without them getting in trouble. I don't think that it's a massive secret, just not reported on very much.
The flight that ended in the copilot being killed had the Nylon fuel grain and used Helium along with the Nitrous to moderate the burn. It was a pilot error and what I see as a poor flight card as being the cause. The accident report says much the same.
Mike Melville may have a published statement about the roughness of the motor on the SS1 flights. I seem to recall him talking about that. Brian Binnie as well. Brian's book as he originally wrote it was rather critical of the program. I'm not sure how it compares with the one that has been released. You will notice that after the X-Prize win, SS1 never flew again and it now hanging up at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC. There's a replica housed at the Mojave Airport close to the Rotary Rocket whose test pilot was also a very crazy Brian Binnie.
For limited values of "stuff"
You ain't gonna fit a 2nd stage big enough to loft 100 tons of payload to LEO under the wing of any feasible airliner
Plus, once you have a fully reusable starship, all you are doing by using air launch is saving fuel, which is by far the cheapest part of the launch, and given that SpaceX are going to be getting fuel pretty much for free (They just suck the fuel out of the atmosphere using their fuel farms), then you're probably not saving nigh on anything vs buying jet fuel
TLDR the bigger the launch vehicle, the lower the cost/kg, and Virgin's system is inherently limited on size
> Branson will be the first of the duo to take a flight
Yet both have been beaten to space by another billionaire: Charles Simonyi.He made it to the ISS in 2007, so has not just been on a up and down again flight, but orbited, visited the Space Station and then did it again in 2009.
I do hope that everybody survives, but is it too much to ask that everything that could possibly go wrong without loss of life does go wrong. It is best for problems to happen early in the bathtub curve, during the infant mortality phase rather than just a normal random failures. And having billionaires survive, as opposed to die, should make these things much safer faster.
"Unashamed showman Branson has tried to trump that, even if VSS Unity will not soar as high as the New Shepard."
Just thanks very much for using the word "trump" all in lower case for a meaning other than, well, you know. Such a relief that we can now reclaim the word and use it as before.
... that is cheering him on? I genuinely wish him well. Of course he's a smart guy, but he has been at this for twenty years and has gone through some really bad times. And it looks like now the competition is certainly driving things forward.
Longer term (2030?) we could have a global sub-orbital transport system in place -- still for the select few because of cost -- but something that has not been possible before. 2040 maybe, this will be far more affordable by many, many people. Who knows? His system -- short hops around the Earth -- could be the new Google of future long-haul travel.
The future is what we make it. Go, Richard, go!! :-)
(Oh, and kudos to the late Paul Allen as well.)
"could be the new Google of future long-haul travel."
Current short and long haul aircraft and the plans on the drawing boards are for aircraft to be as efficient as possible, both in fuel and number of passengers. Emissions, both air and noise pollution, are pretty important to most people and governments these days, the current news stories about proposed supersonic flight notwithstanding. I do wonder if there's a real market for point to point sub-orbitals before there is a clean way of doing it,
BO is currently using LNG_oxygen, VG is using HTPB) nitrous oxide, SpaceX is using Kerosene and Oxygen, none of which can be called green.
"SpaceX is using Kerosene and Oxygen, none of which can be called green."
Starship is Methane/Lox.
Masten Space Systems rockets Xombie, Xoie and Brutus were Lox/IPA.
Lox/H2 is sort of green, but separating the H2 isn't and generating the Lox takes energy that won't be 100% "green"
I don't see any rocket having green cred anytime soon. The energy density required doesn't lend itself to that sort of thing.
Point to point rocket travel isn't viable. The idea has been around for over a century and airplanes are faster and more reliable. It may take more air time in a plane, but ground time for a rocket can be many times longer. Need to move people and supplies, a C-5 or C-17 is cheaper, safer, more versatile and faster.
"Its last test flight reached just over 89km while the New Shepard went comfortably beyond 100km."
I guess it's kind of a requirement of being a Virgin to never quite make it to the finish line?
On the other hand, a stripped down starship could easily get to orbit with a lot of spare space inside. Considering the planned use as a shuttle to Mars, it can clearly get to orbit with quite a payload mass. I wonder if said mass would be enough to launch a fully operational space station? Launch a 6-way docking adaptor, permanently dock four Starship "space stations" in a cross configuration and leach two docking ports for a "lifeboat" and visiting craft on the other axis. Possibly even rotate it for some level of artificial "gravity". 1950/60's SciFi, here we come :-)
> it can clearly get to orbit with quite a payload mass
From mars - yes (Lower gravity, less air resistance). From earth - no
Artificial gravity will require a bigger object than two starships nose-to-nose. The distance from an occupant to the center of rotation needs to be quite a way, else your head and feet are moving at significantly different speeds and you get dizzy.
My only contribution to aviation (and space) is that I fly model sailplanes. They're quite large, they're not like what many people think of as model aircraft, and because of their size and flying characteristics you learn to be quite careful with building and flying them. Despite this I've crashed a few and so I've had a bit of practice at sifting through the debris figuring out what went wrong. The most common cause -- apart from good old pilot error -- is launching something that's just not quite right. You want to fly the thing, you don't want to cart it off home for another week, and so you launch it. Launching these things involves a fairly powerful winch so once you're off then its a bit late to realize that "It will be all right on the night" never is..
Bezos and Branson are amateurs, they're flying their own versions of models. Sure they can afford an army of professionals to design and build their creations but unless they work slowly and methodically rather than worrying about who's ahead of who (particularly, as someone else has pointed out, SpaceX has long disappeared into the distance) then they're an accident waiting to happen.
"Bezos and Branson are amateurs,"
Both of them are in management and seem to not be making themselves a royal PIA by dictating to engineering what to do like contestant number three. Blue Origin is top notch. They don't talk a lot and spend time getting it as correct as possible rather than just firing stuff up and seeing if it explodes. Bezos is a huge checkbook and reminds me of DD Harriman from "The Man Who Sold the Moon". He's a space nut and wants to spend his money to pay somebody to build a rocket he can ride on. Branson is an Ad and Marketing guy along with a fundraiser. His investment in the parent of Virgin Galactic is sleight at this point. He's dumped a bunch of stock which should be telling. Virgin Orbit isn't novel. It's yet another carrier plane with rocket from the Mojave Air and Space Port. White Knights 1 & 2, Star Gazer/Pegasus, Stratolaunch (Birdzilla), and Virgin Orbit. Down the road at the North Gate of Edwards AFB, there's a B-52 with the mount for carrying the X-15. Must be someting in the desert soil, mon.
Neither New Shepard nor VSS Unity are 'models'. They're trying things differently, just like Virgin Orbit is trying things differently to Orbital Sciences (Orbital ATK, now part of Northrop Grumman) who took the US Air Force and NASA's idea of launching vehicles off a flying platform and customised a Lockheed Tri-Star (the Stargazer) for that.
Add the late Paul Allen's StratoLaunch who built a similar monster to the White Knight of Virgin Galactic, but much bigger. It's nicknamed the Roc, and it made its second flight recently.
So yes, the space business is a playground for a variety of folks. You can either:
- Pay ULA, NASA, Arianespace or Roskosmos (or maybe the Chinese or Japanese) for the classic big ass big-beef rockets to get stuff into orbit or beyond.
- Pay SpaceX or Rocketlab to punt dinkier things into LEO using the same kind of 'stand it up and set its arse on fire' kind as the above, and pay less if you use something that's flown before. Yay for recycling!
- Pay Virgin Orbit to fly Cosmic Girl up to 47,000 feet and launch LauncherOne with your package on it into sun-synchronous orbit.
- Pay Stratolaunch, when they eventually launch a business, to do the same as Virgin Orbit but with a bit more oomph.
- Pay Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin to put *you* in orbit
- Pay Roskosmos to put you on the ISS.
The range is wide and varied - All are different applications for different purposes... I have no beef with any of them trying stuff. The more, the merrier... and may it help drive technology and the space 'race' forward.
so, two egomanic taxdodgers employ a few people to make rockets. big fucking deal.
that's no excuse for their willy-waving behaviour over who has the shiniest toy.
beardie and bezos probably employ more financial engineers than rocket engineers. their accountants and lawyers set things up sp they can weasel out of paying their proper share of tax. that's very far from helpful.
how many more nurses or teachers or firefighters could be employed if these two arseholes paid the going rate on their income/wealth like the rest of us do?
I wouldn't mind but for the fact that they're burning up oodles of oxygen and polluting my air, much more once their "Space" ventures really take off... which wouldn't be all that bad if they were actually doing something useful, which they're not, it's merely brief tourism and a stupid waste of resources.
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